Cadence Weapon is a rapper with serious literary cred. Known as Rollie Pemberton in his native Edmonton, Alberta, he served two years as Poet Laureate of the town. His poetry is rooted in hip hop and his raps have a weighty lyrical density.
Words may be his strong suit, but his delivery demands some investment. Sometimes his flow is so casual, he's barely awake. Other times, his voice has a robotic affect. It's as if he wants his words to survive on their own merits, without relying on a strong vocal personality to sell them.
Despite the vocal idiosyncrasies, Hope in Dirt City is a strong album with several intriguing surprises. In Conditioning, the first single, a disjointed sample loop sets an interesting beat. The rhythm is steady, but with discordant undertones. After this intro, Cadence Weapon's rap starts over sparser backing.
I black out on a hundred miscuesInitially, his vocal tone is completely disengaged, but he wakes up coming out of the chorus. The sudden energy hits hard as his vocals build into a raw soul proclamation.
Around the corner from this
No, I'm not tryin' to diss you
But I look so strange, cause I weight train...
I also keep coming back to Crash Course For the Ravers, which takes its title and chorus from David Bowie's Drive In Saturday. The electro-pop, disco bass beat drives the tune. A touch of new wave guitar ornaments the chorus. The relentless disco drive reeks of desperation and burnout mornings. Cadence Weapon uses that darkness to set the mood for his rundown of the club scene. Meshing his rap with David Bowie's lyrics produces an odd juxtaposition. Other than savoring Bowie's line as the title, I'm not sure about the connection but it works.
The songs on Hope in Dirt City visit a range of sounds, giving the album a rich feel. Small Deaths' jazzy ska backing contrasts with the heavy bass new wave behind Jukebox. Then Chevel falls back into a slow soul groove. But it all comes back to Cadence Weapon's tight lyrics:
All black, it's a lugubrious sceneIt's a solid mix. "Drinkin' Canadian Club in Canadian clubs"? I'll raise a glass.
Talk shit, it's all hubris to me
It's all humorous to me
The way they want to talk the rumors to me
But I had to see it get around, like a loop with the beat
You know I kick it to a roof, it's agreed
I'm just too raw